11 reasons not to buy a vintage car–and why you should ignore all of them

Carl
By Carl Heideman
Feb 4, 2023 | Classic Car, vintage car | Posted in Shop Work , News and Notes | From the Oct. 2012 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by GRM Staff

[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

You grew up on a steady diet of front-drive Hondas, 5.0 Mustangs and force-fed Subarus, but you suddenly find yourself attracted to machines from another era—a time defined by chrome bumpers, bias-ply tires, ignition systems featuring moving parts, and mythical devices known as carburetors. 

Your attraction makes little sense. Why trade reliability, comfort and even performance for something that needs constant attention, can’t outrun a minivan, and drops rust and oil in nearly every parking space? 

Because classics are cool. Every trip will be a memorable adventure, whether it’s across state lines to visit friends or down to the corner store. 

Thinking about trading your Miata for an MGB or your Toyota for a Triumph? Be warned that older cars have their own idiosyncrasies, but it’s nothing our forefathers couldn’t handle. You can do it. 

They Have Rusty Gas Tanks

One major cause of carburetor problems comes from outside of it: After 40 or 50 years of service life, don’t be surprised to find rust or dirt in the tank.

Today's solution:

While the fix used to be cleaning followed by using slushing/sealing compounds, we’re finding that today’s ethanol-blended fuels will dissolve these magic chemicals sooner or later. A new tank—figure a few hundred dollars, depending on application—may make more sense.

[Can a sealer kit really save a rusty, 50-year-old gas tank? | KBS Coatings test]

They Have Ignition Points

Not only do our modern cars not have points, but many don’t have distributors at all. In classics, breaker points controlled ignition timing. These are little spring-loaded devices found inside the distributor. Points were not perfect, though: Over time they would get dirty, fall out of adjustment, or simply get mad at the world. Additionally, other moving parts in the distributors would wear and cause their own maddening problems. 

Today's solution:

The PerTronix Ignitor, a solid-state, self-contained electronic points replacement unit, has pretty much become part of the standard operating procedure for older cars. More than 300 applications are available, and it’s a quick install.

In some cases, it also makes sense to get a completely new aftermarket distributor from the likes of Crane or MSD or have the original unit totally rebuilt by a specialist like Advanced Distributors. Carry your old distributor in the trunk, though, as the replacement still isn’t immune to wear. 

They Have No Power

Power brakes, power steering, power seats, power mirrors, power antennas and powerful engines are, for the most part, things that classics don’t have. You’re also going to have a tough time finding a/c, and ABS simply didn’t exist back then. 

Today's solution:

The good news is there’s less stuff to break, and there’s more room in the engine bay. More good news: The lack of this extra equipment will allow you to feel more connected to the driving experience. The bad news: Some say the experience is a bit more on the agricultural side of things. 

They Need to be Tuned

Modern cars have computers and sensors constantly checking the combustion quality and adjusting spark advance, valve timing and fuel pressure as necessary. Classics rely on drivers to listen to the engine, read spark plugs, and use their hands to dial fuel delivery and ignition back in.

Today's solution:

Honestly, if the carb and distributor are in good shape, a car shouldn’t need attention more than once every 5000 miles or so. However, if the car sees limited use and parts have a chance to gum up from old fuel or corrode from stagnation, more frequent tuning may be necessary.

They Have Carburetors and Chokes

If distributors aren’t trouble enough, let’s add the carburetor to the mix. Until the 1980s, most cars had them. Most were single- or multi-venturi, float-type units from Holley, Weber, Solex or Carter. A butterfly choke—sometimes manually operated—aided the starting procedure. 

Many British cars came with SU carburetors, and we admit that they’re a different beast. They might look a little funny, but they work—well enough for Rolls-Royce and countless SCCA championships, in fact. Like all mechanical devices, though, any carburetor will wear with use.

Today's solution:

If you’ve got SU or Stromberg, get to know Joe Curto. He is the Jedi Master when it comes to these carbs and has all the parts you’ll ever need. If you’ve got—or want—Webers, talk to Pierce Manifolds

And when you’re deep into trying to resolve your problems, remember two related tech tips we learned long ago: Most supposed carburetor problems are really ignition problems. And most real carb problems are caused by worn throttle shafts or vacuum leaks—a shot of carb cleaner will quickly tell you whether or not you have a vacuum leak somewhere. 

They Leak Oil

If you park a modern car in your friend’s driveway, no one will know you’d been there. But if you park your classic in the same spot, your car will leave its mark. 

Today's solution:

Classics leak—some even leaked on the dealers’ floors. Don’t be surprised if your classic leaves a 2- or 3-inch spot of oil on the garage floor after each drive. If the leaks get bigger than that, you can make them smaller with new seals. We’ll be honest, though: You’ll go crazy trying to stop all of them. Call it the nature of the beast. 

They Like Different Oil

Remember that “motor oil is motor oil” commercial? That was standard procedure back in the day. Lately, though, to improve emissions, most commercially available oils have dropped their levels of zinc dialkyldithiophosphate or ZDDP. 

What’s the result? Depending on who you ask, these decreased zinc levels have played havoc on the flat tappet camshafts found in older cars. Additionally, today’s cars run on thinner oils like 5W30 or 0W30, while classics called for thicker formulations like 20W50 or straight 40. 

Today's solution:

Specialized, high-zinc oils aimed at older engines have been released by Joe Gibbs Driven, Brad Penn, Valvoline and others. Red Line’s synthetic oils also contain high levels of zinc.

[Ask an Oil Expert: Industry Specialists Set the Record Straight on Motor Oil for Classic Cars]

They Have Scavenger-Hunt Tires

Need tires for your Lancer Evo? Easy. But what about an MGB, Triumph Spitfire or Fiat X1/9? The sad truth is that small, sporty tires have become increasingly difficult to find.

Today's solution:

Before ordering those upsized wheels, check out the Vredestein Sprint Classic. It’s a modern radial that features period-correct looks and comes in vintage sizes. Coker Tire and Universal Vintage Tire Co. both carry Vredestein tires as well as other brands that offer new rubber created from old molds. If a street-legal race tire works for you, Toyo and Nitto still offer 13- and 14-inch sizes.

[Ultimate track tire guide | 200tw, 100tw, street-legal track and R-comps]

They’ve Been “Fixed” Before

If you’ve read this far, you’ve figured out that a classic car has likely had its hood opened more often than a modern car. There’s a pretty good chance someone has made a repair using just Vise-Grips, a brick and some bailing wire. 

Today's solution:

These past “fixes” will now be your problem. Not only do you have to undo the “fix,” but you’ll still have to solve the original problem. It sounds frustrating, but it’s really part of the fun, so get used to it. Join a club, make some new friends, and learn more about these great cars. 

Worried about wiring woes—especially on older British cars? It’s usually a past “fix” that’s to blame, and fortunately, brand-new wiring harnesses can be purchased. Hint: Check British Wiring

They Rust

Classics don’t only suffer from rusty gas tanks; these cars can rust in other places, too. We know you're shocked to hear that. 

Why all the rust? Well, for one, older steel is usually rustier than newer steel, right? Also, these classics weren’t treated to all the rust inhibitors newer cars have been blessed with. Thanks to advances in technology, newer cars, despite living in the rust belt, can usually fend off rust for at least a decade. Older cars often acquired rust by the third or fourth year. 

Today's solution:

The proper fix usually involves welding in patch panels and a fresh coat of paint. Luckily, there is a wide aftermarket supporting these types of repairs. Need a fender or repair for a 45-year-old classic? It’s probably in production. Some caveats, though: The cost of repair might very well exceed the value of the car, and not all modern repair panels are created equal—some are excellent, while others will require some fiddling. 

 

They Attract Attention and Storytellers

This is it—the big one: When you park your Impreza, Civic or Escort at the supermarket lot, it’s just another car in a field of shoeboxes, minivans and stupid SUVs. But when you park your classic in the same spot, people are going to talk to you—and you’re going to leave a small puddle of oil, remember.

They’ll ask you what year it is, how long you’ve owned it, and where you buy parts. Then they’ll tell you that they had one like it, or their crazy Uncle Tim had one but only drove it once, or that they came home from the hospital in one when they were born. 

And then you’ll know why you’ve gone classic. These cars are much more about the interactions they deliver than the performance they offer. 

If you just want to go fast and cut the perfect apex, then maybe a modern car is for you. If you want a little more, like getting your hands dirty and enjoying the total experience, think about a classic.

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VegasNick
VegasNick Reader
7/26/22 12:25 p.m.

Whoaaa! I can't believe you guys dissed points! JUust have to learn care and feeding of them! :) 

Great article. 

wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
7/26/22 1:01 p.m.

I have fixed a vintage car that had the points close down, using a matchbook cover found on the side of the road and a screwdriver (I always carry a small tool kit - and when  remember, spare ignition bits too).  If I had been in one of my modern cars, the only tool that would have done me any good is a cell phone to call a tow truck.  And we were out in the boonies outside of Alturas California at the time so the truck wouldn't have come soon!

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/26/22 1:07 p.m.

In reply to wspohn :

If you'd been in a car with a modern ignition system, you wouldn't have had a points failure :)

triumph7
triumph7 HalfDork
7/26/22 2:00 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to wspohn :

If you'd been in a car with a modern ignition system, you wouldn't have had a points failure :)

But after an EMF hit the car with the points will still be running.

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/26/22 2:05 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :You are probably right.  Some electronic wiz bang failed and it's deep inside something you can't even see.  
   So go ahead and call the tow truck. To be hauled to someplace that doesn't have the part in stock but can get shipped overnight for only $45 extra.  Except that really won't be the problem.  Just the parts replacers best guess. 
  Just relax, you'll be there a while while he keeps denting your card with his guesses. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/26/22 2:13 p.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

No, the modern car doesn't break down because it doesn't have short term consumables in a critical system. There are no points, so the points cannot fail.

What's better, frequent breakdowns with easy fixes or far less frequent breakdowns with more difficult fixes? And a car that can actually TELL you what is wrong? When the #1 coil went bad (overheated due to a poorly placed heatshield) on my rally car right when I was finishing a stage, I didn't have to guess which of the 8 coils it was because the car told me. So I replaced that one coil and the car was fixed for the next stage. 

SPG123
SPG123 HalfDork
7/26/22 4:58 p.m.

Well then, And only because I live this every day...

If you add up the real money that you spend on stuff to fix/maintain your old cars every month it will probably be equal or greater to the payment on a genuinely nice newer car. And if you are like me I now have enough clunky old vehicles to "need" a truck and trailer. Said truck and trailer have to be capable enough of long distance hauls without killing teenage sons. So no skimping there.  Oh and the stuff required for that. winch, tools, straps, insurance, thousands of dollars for constant feeding of said teenage sons... And a gas card to feed the new large rig. And a place to put it.

Your home will no longer be full of old car parts and parts cars required to maintain said fleet of constantly deteriorating old vehicles. You may even use a room for its intended purpose.  

You may have time to do things like starting Microsoft II, getting an education with Doctorate or even becoming acquainted with your family instead of fixing old stuff, finding parts and hundreds of different chemicals and paints... for old stuff, looking at old stuff for old stuff, traveling many states away to get stuff for stuff to fill your house or traveling to dispose of stuff that you no longer need until you buy another and need it again. 

But like me, you will probably see some old hulk somewhere and it will make you smile. And you will "see" it finished in your mind. And none of the above will matter.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/26/22 5:48 p.m.

I'd like to point out that I have many old cars, but they all have Pertronix Ignitors or equivalents :) Except the blue Cadillac, I should sort that out...

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
7/26/22 6:31 p.m.

My first car was a 1969 Chevy Impala, and I remember coasting to the side of the road, already thinking "I bet it's those points again." That time, the spring-loaded portion of it had become detached from its base, so no easy side-of-the-road fix. It was replaced by a "transistorized" (a very dated term now) points replacement thingy, and no more problems. So while we all moan and groan about how great the old days were, yeah, I have to side with Keith, that for what's basically a consumable, replacing points with electronics was a big win all around. Those of you planning or hoping for EOTWAWKI will have far bigger problems than the ignition not cutting out.

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/26/22 7:27 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to frenchyd :

No, the modern car doesn't break down because it doesn't have short term consumables in a critical system. There are no points, so the points cannot fail.

What's better, frequent breakdowns with easy fixes or far less frequent breakdowns with more difficult fixes? And a car that can actually TELL you what is wrong? When the #1 coil went bad (overheated due to a poorly placed heatshield) on my rally car right when I was finishing a stage, I didn't have to guess which of the 8 coils it was because the car told me. So I replaced that one coil and the car was fixed for the next stage. 

Oh gee,  all those Honda, Toyota, Nissan GM Ford etc dealers are just changing  everybody's oil?  The parts department only stocks oil filters and floor mats?   Those trucks that look a lot like tow trucks are bringing in those vehicles because the owners are too busy to drive them in?

 Sorry,  just having a little fun. 
        I know new cars are more reliable and in a lot of ways better  than old stuff.  But some people like old.  Old cars, old wood sailboats, old steam trains. Etc.   Old does not make things bad ( I sure hope not because Yesterday I got closer to the 3/4 century mark).   A lot of us think that manual transmissions are part of the experience  we don't need ( or want) electronic ignition.  
   We have pride in our skills, knowledge, talents.  Our vintage cars attract attention no modern car can. As much As I've pointed out Tesla's to my wife and she still fails to note them.   She and most people notice the different.  

buzzboy
buzzboy SuperDork
7/26/22 7:34 p.m.

My vintage car skips all that ignition stuff. No variable timing, no distributor, no plugs, no electricity at all.

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
7/26/22 8:45 p.m.

We replaced the points distributor in the Datsun 1200 with an electronic distributor from a 210 (same engine series) in 1985. The same unit is in the car today. I have a spare in my track box but in all my years involved with Datsun A-Series engines i've never seen one fail.

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/26/22 9:31 p.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

A manual transmission affects the driving experience. The thrill of unreliability and increased maintenance does not :) You can still have the whole experience of driving a vintage car with electronic ignition, and if you don't tell anyone they never need to know. 

When I put the Pertronix into the Land Rover, I kept the points just in case I needed them for a trail fix. Well, I did. A Land Rover owner who did NOT have a Pertronix had a points problem in the middle of the Utah desert, so I donated the replacement parts to him.

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
7/26/22 10:03 p.m.
frenchyd said:
 But some people like old.  Old cars, old wood sailboats, old steam trains. Etc.   Old does not make things bad..

Years ago I saw a high-res aerial photo taken of California's Interstate 5 in the late 1960's. This view from above shows maybe one mile of freeway about 20 miles north of San Diego, and in it, I counted 22 cars. Yes: 22. In a mile. Midday. So our rose-colored visions of what it was like driving those old cars are skewed by not having heavy traffic to deal with. I used to love driving stick shift cars, but that's been beaten out of me with all the traffic now, and it always seems like every single traffic light is always red!

Tom1200
Tom1200 UberDork
7/26/22 10:12 p.m.

There's a guy near.me who daily drive a 52 Bel Air. It appears.to.be all stock and doesn't sound like the motors been hot rodded.

Wasn't there a Ford engineer who daily drove a model T?

 

03Panther
03Panther UberDork
7/27/22 12:06 a.m.

Points, and other old car stuff, are not the worthless demons as some portray. They are also not as , uh , special? As others proclaim. I've had both ways, and like both ways, for different reasons. In 99 I was travelin' with a 73 ironhead chopper still on points. Since I rode it VERY hard, I could tell when the points plate moved a bit and the points closed up a bit too much. Pull over, no matchbook, no problem. I set the gap by the look of the spark at points! Certain color blue, and there was the right gap for power!

Would NOT want to depend on that as a commuter. But I also knew that bike intimately !!! One of the joys of owning one like that. 

03Panther
03Panther UberDork
7/27/22 12:20 a.m.

In reply to kb58 :

In 90 or so the Monitor-Merrimack bridge was being built in VA. Silly name, since the Monitor fought the Confederate iron clad ship the Virginia, but the winners write the history books, so... but I digress. 
Read a newspaper article at the time about the existing bridge tunnel on I64. Built in the 50's, as a two lane. Not too many years later they had to plan and add a second 2 lane next to it , for two in each direction. The estimate at that time was it would be good for 200,000 cars... PER DAY!!! They assumed that would be good till the turn of the century in 2000. By 1989, that bridge tunnel on 64 was moving 400,000 cars per day. I've been stuck in that back up for 2-3 hours, coming home from work, at rush hour. Never stopped moving 100 %, but rarely got far into 2 nd gear. Did it in old stuff. But I was tough back then. Would not recommend it to the average citizen, and couldn't do it today,in old stuff. Course I moved since then, and wouldn't do it in ANYTHING now. 

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
7/27/22 2:01 a.m.

That article describes my motorcycle. 100%. Except the leaking oil. It's a Honda, and they aren't allowed to do that.

yupididit
yupididit GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
7/27/22 3:41 a.m.

In reply to 03Panther :

They're adding more lanes to the hrbt right now. I believe they want it to be 4 lane per side. That includes the tunnel

ddavidv
ddavidv UltimaDork
7/27/22 7:26 a.m.

In the last two days I've watched two videos about older vehicles that had electronic ignition parts that failed during normal use. One was a HEI distributor and the other an HEI module. 

My own experience with the HEI distributor in the '93 Lightning was a timing advance issue that NOBODY was able to diagnose until I did a last ditch parts swap with a friend.

Now add in the dubious quality of aftermarket electronic components we have today or aged-out old stuff (like Duraspark computers) and there are more potential problems out there than you might think.

Points are easy. I don't understand the reluctance of people to retain them. The only car I've ever had to fiddle with points on was my Austin Mini, but the distributor was right up in the front and the easiest to adjust of any car I've owned. 

I've had a Pertronix conversion, and it worked fine. But I really didn't see any advantage to it. It always worried me that, if it took a dump on a trip, I probably couldn't get the replacement parts at any local parts store.

JoeTR6
JoeTR6 Dork
7/27/22 7:48 a.m.

In reply to ddavidv :

The quality of available points and rotors has also deteriorated, at least for British cars.  My solution was to carry a good used set of points and new rotor as spares to backup a Pertronix conversion which can suffer an immediate death.

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/22 10:35 a.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to frenchyd :

A manual transmission affects the driving experience. The thrill of unreliability and increased maintenance does not :) You can still have the whole experience of driving a vintage car with electronic ignition, and if you don't tell anyone they never need to know. 

When I put the Pertronix into the Land Rover, I kept the points just in case I needed them for a trail fix. Well, I did. A Land Rover owner who did NOT have a Pertronix had a points problem in the middle of the Utah desert, so I donated the replacement parts to him.

In my experience  a clutch even properly used ( not abused ) will not last as long as an  automatic. 
  With regard to pertronix  ignition, I have replaced those when they fail. Admittedly not as often as you have to adjust points.  But some have failed.  
      The SU fuel pump has points and I would never replace those.  Part of the start up process is turn on the ignition and wait until the fuel pump fills the float bowls before attempting to start. 
      That actually tells you something.    If it's recently been running. And pumps for more than normal. You open the hood and see what is causing it.  Loose fuel line, float bowl?  Etc.  That communication helps connect you to the car.  

But transportation Module s don't communicate with you. No clattering valves to remind you to adjust them.  No noisy water pump to tell you it's time to rebuild it.  I'm lacking that connection.  
  My trouble free Chevy pickup ran 371,000 miles / 20 years and quietly rusted away. I sent it off to the junkyard  without a tear because of that lack of connection. 
    So yes I'll adjust points and tolerate foibles.   Because we communicate. 

Carl Heideman
Carl Heideman
7/27/22 11:03 a.m.

In reply to ddavidv and JoeTR6 :

I wrote that story about 10 years ago and you and others have brought up some good points about points.  At Eclectic Motorworks, for the past five years or so, we've stayed with points more often than not because we've seen too many quality issues with electronic conversions failing completely or having erratic issues. However, lately, we're seeing some real quality problems with brand new points--some lasting just a few miles, some a few hundred, etc.. Like Joe, we often leave good used points in a car and just make sure they're adjusted well and aren't badly worn/pitted.

So in my experience, there is a pendulum that swings for "what works best" that is often more about parts quality and the supply chain than it is about the inherent advantage of a particular technology.

intrepid
intrepid Reader
7/27/22 11:46 a.m.

For racing at least, it seems that condensers are as big a problem as points. 

The biggest issue for me with old cars, and I say this as a lover of old brits, is the increasing scarcity of parts and the related quality issues. This has nothing to do with quality of British engineering. It is simply that the cars are old and things wear out with use. Ten years ago, it was relatively easy to find inexpensive replacement parts of decent quality. Things have changed now.

To be fair, the same thing seems to be happening with other cars (Japanese) from the 70s-80s and even the 90s.

-chris r.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/22 11:53 a.m.

In reply to intrepid :

10 years ago, everyone was complaining about how the quality of replacement parts wasn't as good as it used to be. 10-15 years before THAT, it was really hard to actually find parts. My Land Rover was pushed into a barn for 10 years because the owner couldn't source the clutch parts needed before internet commerce became a thing. So it's probably easier to own a vintage vehicle now than it's ever been.

I agree that sub-standard parts should not be used to judge the effectiveness of a technology. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/22 11:58 a.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

Your point about the SU pump having points doesn't really tell you anything. You're listening to the pump running, which you can do with any electric pump. Points are just a way for that pump not to work - and based on my mother's stories of having to cool the overheating SU pump on her early MGB, purchased new, that pump not working was pretty common.

Cars that just work definitely require less mechanical interaction. Instead, you get your interaction by actually driving instead of not being able to drive because you're having to fix it. So it comes down to the age old question of what you get out of a project car. For some, it's the building. For some, it's the end result and the using. If you want to spend your time building, get something with very high maintenance requirements - both scheduled and unscheduled. If you want to drive, set the car up to be reliable and trouble-free. That rusted out Chevy pickup did over a third of a million miles of work for you without you needing to listen carefully to diagnose potential problems in the fuel system every time you started it up.

porschenut
porschenut HalfDork
7/27/22 11:58 a.m.

6 months getting a $300 spitfire running, 6 months driving it made for an interesting year.  Ten minutes driving a 30 YO miata and the spit was up for sale.  So add one more reason to the list.

aircooled
aircooled MegaDork
7/27/22 12:02 p.m.

For my 58 Ghia (which I clearly do not drive every day) I find points are the best solution.  Why?  Yes, points are less reliable than a Pertronix, but Pertronix (as noted above) are not bullet proof.  I can carry a spare ignitions system around (points / condenser) for (now wildly more expensive) price of $7 or so.  If I want a spare Pertronix, that's a good $100.  The spare points also take up very little room in the tool box.

For my Corvair, a more performance oriented engine, I run a electronic distributor conversion, which seems to be a much higher quality / durability to the Pertronix.  I would consider a similar conversion for the Ghia, but it's really not necessary.

friedgreencorrado
friedgreencorrado UltimaDork
7/27/22 2:25 p.m.

Say it again about the interactions. I bought my ratty old '84 Prelude because the first new car I ever bought was an '83. Loved how well it handled, but it was just so slow. Sold it after I paid it off, but had been saying I need to get another one "someday" for 35yrs. Guy only wanted $2K, and it ran & drove, so I did it.

About a month later, I'm out to make another run around the curvy roads around here. Stopped at the little country corner store on my way back. I come out, and there's a woman around my own age fawning over it.

Turns out a red 2G Prelude was she and her sister's 'hot college girls getting in trouble' car. And her sister passed away from cancer last year. She was in tears. So happy to see one still on the road. Would have offered her a ride, but it seemed inappropriate after she mentioned her sister's death. I go back to that store a lot now, but haven't seen her again. Must have been a tourist (state park here).

Like the author said, always a story. Book extra time for talking. 

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/22 3:18 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to frenchyd :

Your point about the SU pump having points doesn't really tell you anything. You're listening to the pump running, which you can do with any electric pump. Points are just a way for that pump not to work - and based on my mother's stories of having to cool the overheating SU pump on her early MGB, purchased new, that pump not working was pretty common.

Cars that just work definitely require less mechanical interaction. Instead, you get your interaction by actually driving instead of not being able to drive because you're having to fix it. So it comes down to the age old question of what you get out of a project car. For some, it's the building. For some, it's the end result and the using. If you want to spend your time building, get something with very high maintenance requirements - both scheduled and unscheduled. If you want to drive, set the car up to be reliable and trouble-free. That rusted out Chevy pickup did over a third of a million miles of work for you without you needing to listen carefully to diagnose potential problems in the fuel system every time you started it up.

Clearly you and I differ.  You are not wrong, nor  am I. 
   I enjoy that rainy weekend day spent on the MGTD.  Cleaning, polishing, dealing with a few nagging little issues, wiping down the underside from oil dripping.   Polishing the underside because I can,  oiling hinges and etc. removing the wire wheels and refreshing the splines with copper coat.   Wiping all 48 spokes clean and spraying  some WD 40 into each nipple thread.  Yes the grease gun cones out. Oil is changed. Classical music is on the boom box or maybe a little folk music.   Sure I check the points, plugs,  and valve lash. Tire pressure is reset and another coat of armorall applied to the tires.   I even check the tread to make sure no stones are stuck.  Then everything is noted in the log book. Going back to when I started it in1969. 
    By now much of the day has gone so the cover goes back over it and it's ready for the next time.   I think next time I'll polish the Whitworth wrenches and sockets. Maybe talk Claudia into making me a canvas roll for tools. 

ddavidv
ddavidv UltimaDork
7/27/22 4:16 p.m.
porschenut said:

6 months getting a $300 spitfire running, 6 months driving it made for an interesting year.  Ten minutes driving a 30 YO miata and the spit was up for sale.  So add one more reason to the list.

I did over 25 years in the Fiat 124 world. One becomes something of an 'expert' on a car model when you've worked on as many as I did. When current owners want to change x, y or z on their car to make it 'better' (usually, faster) I advise them to sell it and get a Miata. I do this not because the Fiat 124 is an inferior car, it is just a car from a different era. It's an excellent sports car...for 1968. Either you want that experience, or you don't. If you don't, you should buy a Miata. It ruffles feathers, but I don't really care. 

I will agree that the quality of non-OEM parts is a constant battle no matter what era car we are talking about. But, the simpler the car, the less I think it matters. Good old American iron is probably the most forgiving. More suppliers, more demand and generally easy stuff to replace. I struggled with European cars for decades and kind of lost my appetite for car tinkering until I went domestic. Playing with stuff from the Big 3 is just so easy. 

The Japanese did a wonderful job of making things that were ultra-reliable and durable. Their electronics hardly ever fail. Unfortunately, the products just don't provide the joyful interaction I get from European or American brands. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/22 8:24 p.m.

In reply to aircooled :

You can carry points around as a spare for a Pertronix if you want. The conversion is quick and simple. You'll probably never need them, but if you want to have one of everything that could possibly fail on board it's an option. 
 That's what I did with the Rover, and another owner benefited from it. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/22 8:29 p.m.

In reply to friedgreencorrado :

I get a lot of comments on the '85 CRX. People definitely have associations, and are happy to see a clean one. For me, it was a car I loved in high school so I always wanted one. It's worth noting that it's probably as old now as the Midget used in the photo for this article was when the article was published :)

I drove it to Moab with Tim Suddard a few years ago and he was amazed I didn't bring tools. Why would I? It's a 35 year old Honda that gets driven! 

03Panther
03Panther UberDork
7/27/22 9:21 p.m.

My dad had a couple wagons after his 63 fairlane he bought new. I was probably 6 years old when he traded it in, but I remember it well only time on side of the road in that, (in my younger memory, was when he ran out of gas. 
couple in between, no impression. But I drove the Plymouth Fury III wagon a few times. He had several ignition modules leave him stranded... till he bought 2, replaced the bad one, and put the spare, and needed tools. in the tire well. I'm. not sure anything on that wagon failed the next couple years. 
They were right expensive. 100 bucks, if I recall correctly. But he prolly made $1.10/ hr about that time... still said it was the best 100 he ever spent. 
His middle brother, with a dodge luxo-boat, had exact same thing happen!

new modern cars are a bit better, the the guy that claims they NEVER leave you broken an the side of the road, is as full of it as the guy that says points are better!!! Truth, as usual, is somewhere between those ridiculous extremes 

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/27/22 9:47 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Regarding overheating SU fuel pumps.  I'm afraid that was a false diagnosis.  For decades I was  told SU fuel pumps are unreliable and need to cool down, then be hit with a (stick/ hammer depends on who's doing the telling). When  it gets too frequent just replace the whole fuel pump.  Doubtless told that by mechanics who understood cleaning points wouldn't pay very well but installing a new fuel pump would. 

    Then I learned the points get dirty and need to be cleaned. Which I've done for the past 40 years of ownership to the same SU fuel pump.  It takes less than 2 minutes to do. So I do it as part of every oil change. 
     I did it on a Rolls Royce that was towed into the shop and explained it was part of every British cars maintenance.   I've done it on Jaguars and every British car I've ever worked. Plus told the owners to spread the word.  

     Yes, the Japanese learned quality control very well.  The cars don't need such attention. But they lack the character that British cars used to have.
      They are great for reliable transportation. An excellent transportation appliance.  While I may not like the styling of many of them.  As a reliable transport module few exceed them.  

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/28/22 12:09 a.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

I'll tell my Mom that her new MG had a dirty pump from the factory :)

My CRX actually shares a lot of driving characteristics of my classic Mini. It's got loads of character, talkative steering, enough power to be quick but not fast, light weight and a little snorty exhaust note. It wants to be going just a little faster all the time. It's even far more roomy inside than you'd think. It is far from a transportation appliance, the second generation was the '55 Chevy of a younger generation. The fact that it just works is a plus, not a minus. 

I'm not saying that modern cars are bombproof. But the mean time between failures is dramatically longer, and by replacing consumable parts in the ignition system with ones that have a much lower failure rate you can improve that on vintage cars as well. There's no joy in coasting to the side of the road other than in the retelling later. 

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/28/22 12:27 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

My MGTD has never graced the side of the highway or failed on the race track. 
 It did come in with a rod knock when oil was blown out of a filler cap that must have been left loose.  ( I'm guilty ) 

    But it rode home on  Bob Bodine's trailer intended for a mega million Ferrari GTO, 

 Luckily the damage only hurt the bearing and a fresh set of bearing had it good as new. 
  My Black Jack special. Raced with the same engine from  mid 1970's until it was sold to the Packard Museum in about 2015.  

alfadriver
alfadriver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/28/22 7:47 a.m.

It's interesting to see, again, that flaws = character.   Because most of the other "character" that people want are available in many Japanese products.  Just as the lack of those same characters can be found in European products.

And I admit that I was part of that looking for flaws thing- I always knew that a simple Miata was a far superior autocrossing car than my GTV ever was- but I liked how the driving flaws felt.  There was no way a Alfa 105/115 chassis was ever going to be better than the Miata- and it was really easy to get one with really incredible feedback, so you could feel every parts of the road and enjoy it- there's a real reason Miatas are so popular, after all.

An amusing side story about CRX's, which starts with an Alfa.  My first car was an Alfetta GT- cool car, not quite as cool as the GTV, but cool enough.  But seriously problematic- the PO's left some seriously lingering problems that it took some real specialists to iron out.  Anyway, given that I could not drive it to a summer job in California, and certainly could not get me to grad school in Michigan, I added a CRX HF to my stable (ok, my parents did).  With 65hp, it certainly was not the fastest thing in the world- but being so very simple- it was great to drive.  Like all of the best of a normal Mini but with it being really reliable and REALLY good on fuel.

Kept that car so long that I added 165k miles on it myself.  If I had gotten farther into the Honda world to know where to get engine swaps, it may have been my first Challenge car back in 2001.  Basically, for those who think that all Japanese cars are just appliances have no idea what they are talking about.  As far as I'm concerned, they just want to find reasons to justify their choices by saying tropes that people in their tribe agree with.

outasite
outasite HalfDork
7/28/22 8:30 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

My 1975 Trans Am HEI module failed in 1976 coming back from Lime Rock on a Sunday. We had to wait until the parts store opened the next day. I never had points, condenser, coil or distributor leave me stranded in the previous 12 years of driving. GM continued to produce unreliable HEI modules into the 90s. I used to carry a spare in my tool bag.

Noddaz
Noddaz GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
7/28/22 8:50 a.m.

Not trying to fuel the points vs:electronic  pick up fire here, but this snippet is from a recent Classic Motorsports article I was reading.

To provide more consistent and reliable spark, the distributors were converted to use electronic triggers rather the antiquated points setup

Scott

 

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/28/22 10:30 a.m.
alfadriver said:

It's interesting to see, again, that flaws = character.   Because most of the other "character" that people want are available in many Japanese products.  Just as the lack of those same characters can be found in European products.

And I admit that I was part of that looking for flaws thing- I always knew that a simple Miata was a far superior autocrossing car than my GTV ever was- but I liked how the driving flaws felt.  There was no way a Alfa 105/115 chassis was ever going to be better than the Miata- and it was really easy to get one with really incredible feedback, so you could feel every parts of the road and enjoy it- there's a real reason Miatas are so popular, after all.

An amusing side story about CRX's, which starts with an Alfa.  My first car was an Alfetta GT- cool car, not quite as cool as the GTV, but cool enough.  But seriously problematic- the PO's left some seriously lingering problems that it took some real specialists to iron out.  Anyway, given that I could not drive it to a summer job in California, and certainly could not get me to grad school in Michigan, I added a CRX HF to my stable (ok, my parents did).  With 65hp, it certainly was not the fastest thing in the world- but being so very simple- it was great to drive.  Like all of the best of a normal Mini but with it being really reliable and REALLY good on fuel.

Kept that car so long that I added 165k miles on it myself.  If I had gotten farther into the Honda world to know where to get engine swaps, it may have been my first Challenge car back in 2001.  Basically, for those who think that all Japanese cars are just appliances have no idea what they are talking about.  As far as I'm concerned, they just want to find reasons to justify their choices by saying tropes that people in their tribe agree with.

 You won't hear-that from me.  Back in the late 70's I sold the first Honda Civics   In the Twin Cities.  I made more money selling a Civic  than I did selling the GMC motorhome Eleganza  

     It's the car that I drag raced and my demo ride was to go to the nearby freeway cloverleaf and demonstrate its cornering power while I talked about fuel mileage.  

    

03Panther
03Panther UberDork
7/28/22 7:18 p.m.

I had about the same number of miles on a mgb, and a new CRX si, back in 87, on backwoods roads for fun. Technically, the SI was faster, handled better and got better mpg. Definitely more dependable, and less fuss to maint. 
But on the fun scale of a single, no kids young (ish) guy. The MG was head and shoulders above. Would not fit in either all that well today, so...

ddavidv
ddavidv UltimaDork
7/29/22 7:36 a.m.

I also owned a CRX Si. I was pretty enamored by the CRX when it came out as there really wasn't much else interesting in the small car landscape at the time. It was a quick, competent car. And that's really all I can say about it. After paying it off, I sold it soon after. It was an appliance. 

Now, to someone who has never experienced 'what came before' I suppose a CRX or it's ilk (Sentra SE-R, etc) would be a pretty cool car. But it left me wanting, and I returned to European cars. The only Japanese cars I've owned since then have been Subarus, which were quirky enough to have some character while still being reliable. 

Today, with virtually all cars being vanilla and laden with technology (that can/does fail) I'd probably just buy a Honda or Toyota to avoid as many trips to the dealer as possible. I have no interest working on them or modifying them. The old stuff is fun, and easy to understand without resorting to a laptop.

wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
7/29/22 11:31 a.m.

On old cars I have found that you can ward off mechanical failures using automotive juju. Only the parts that you lack spares for tend to fail on cross country trips! I know this because in around 1980 I was down around San Francisco with the same white MGA coupe as in the picture I posted earlier.  We were driving home to  up the nice winding coat highway when my water pump started to make noise (bearings going out) and leak.  I did not have a spare pump, and it was a hard to find water pump as it was only used for a couple of years - 1963/64 in the 3 main bearing MGB engine my car had in it.

I called up and down the coast to try and locate a spare and found one in Portland (at Faspec, owned by a competitor of mine who raced a Morris Minor truck with a killer 1275 in it).  I drove very slowly from Crescent City ro Portland, bought the pump and changed it in an underground parking garage and we were on our way.  I bought another spare pump and put it in the boot, and because of automotive juju have never had another pump failure (the initial one that did fail had been new when I built the engine back around 1977 or so, possibly a faulty rebuilt pump).

My conclusion is that any part likely to fail can be prevented from failing by carrying a suitable spare.  If you have it on board, it will never fail.

And I will second what Frenchy said about SU pumps - dress the points once a decade or so and ward off problems with them.  We had a Wolseley 6/99 that had the Lucas pump going out and we got home by putting my wife in the boot (which I hasten to say was capacious - you could hold a party back there (although my Jag Mk 9 was even larger)  armed with a crescent wrench and a flashlight, with instructions to tap on the pump  whenever I yelled out.

We had to make one stop on the way home and when I parked at the curb and let my wife out of the boot, a couple were walking by and for some reason I said "And of you do it again it will be back in the trunk with you!"  I was in the dog house for quite awhile for that momentary indiscretion!

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/29/22 11:48 a.m.

I blew snot on that.  Thank you.!  
  But Amen to the carried spare part.   I have never needed them no matter where I go.   

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/29/22 12:00 p.m.

I have a clock from a world war 2 Fletcher class destroyers 

It has an adjustment  on it that can speed up or slow down the works so you can adjust the clock precisely.  Here is a 80 year old clock that has spent the first 30 years of its life at sea probably  in battles.  And it's still keeping time 
 Try to do that with your Digital  clock.  

SteveNeill
SteveNeill
10/29/22 3:01 p.m.

In reply to Carl Heideman :

I grew up on classic sports cars. You name it I've had it. For the last 28 years I had this 300zx fair lady. It was a 1985 digital gauges, talking computer, powered everything modern sports car. I had it fully restored. Even then it never quite scratched my itch. It was dependable and never broke down ever. It just didn't have that true top down two seater rag top character.

So I traded it for a 1977 Fiat 124 Spider. Funny thing is it doesn't leak oil or have problems running well. Probably because everything has been rebuilt or replaced. The minute I drove it is was heaven on wheels. Now I'm restoring the exterior and interior. This car scratched my itch for sure! And Mary likes it too!

Great article. All true. Thanks for the good read!

frenchyd
frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
10/29/22 3:55 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to frenchyd :

Your point about the SU pump having points doesn't really tell you anything. You're listening to the pump running, which you can do with any electric pump. Points are just a way for that pump not to work - and based on my mother's stories of having to cool the overheating SU pump on her early MGB, purchased new, that pump not working was pretty common.

Cars that just work definitely require less mechanical interaction. Instead, you get your interaction by actually driving instead of not being able to drive because you're having to fix it. So it comes down to the age old question of what you get out of a project car. For some, it's the building. For some, it's the end result and the using. If you want to spend your time building, get something with very high maintenance requirements - both scheduled and unscheduled. If you want to drive, set the car up to be reliable and trouble-free. That rusted out Chevy pickup did over a third of a million miles of work for you without you needing to listen carefully to diagnose potential problems in the fuel system every time you started it up.

You know, you're at least part right. New cars are probably a lot more reliable than the old stuff we love. However those old MG's, Jaguar's, Austin Healey's, are not stamped out by the millions  as most newer cars are. 
   They were honestly hand built by craftsmen.  Designed by one person rather than a committee. And built to be fun.  
       Fun!   Not just a transportation module with a trend towards this or that. 
     Have you ever hand crank started a car in front of a young kid?  Watch his eyes open up as his mouth drops? 
   Have a 16 year old kid drop his hand down and touch the pavement because of the cut away doors? 
     Drive around a corner at 30 mph and have a teenage girl squeal with excitement and thrills. 
     The trouble with new is it too soon gets old.  There are enough new cars around that they are treated like appliances. Replaced with the next newest style. Until new doesn't mean anything more than a new pair of sox's 

Gen Z ignores cars. They are thought of as transportation modules tied up in a traffic Jam. More of a problem than any sense of freedom and exploration. 
      
     But really restoration is an expensive proposition. Trying to turn back the hand of time  that has moved on.  Making parts an expensive proposition without the masses to pay for that Re-engineering. 
  No logic at all.  Just Love and the memories of time long past. 

NermalSnert (Forum Supporter)
NermalSnert (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
10/29/22 4:31 p.m.
frenchyd said:
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to frenchyd :

Your point about the SU pump having points doesn't really tell you anything. You're listening to the pump running, which you can do with any electric pump. Points are just a way for that pump not to work - and based on my mother's stories of having to cool the overheating SU pump on her early MGB, purchased new, that pump not working was pretty common.

Cars that just work definitely require less mechanical interaction. Instead, you get your interaction by actually driving instead of not being able to drive because you're having to fix it. So it comes down to the age old question of what you get out of a project car. For some, it's the building. For some, it's the end result and the using. If you want to spend your time building, get something with very high maintenance requirements - both scheduled and unscheduled. If you want to drive, set the car up to be reliable and trouble-free. That rusted out Chevy pickup did over a third of a million miles of work for you without you needing to listen carefully to diagnose potential problems in the fuel system every time you started it up.

Clearly you and I differ.  You are not wrong, nor  am I. 
   I enjoy that rainy weekend day spent on the MGTD.  Cleaning, polishing, dealing with a few nagging little issues, wiping down the underside from oil dripping.   Polishing the underside because I can,  oiling hinges and etc. removing the wire wheels and refreshing the splines with copper coat.   Wiping all 48 spokes clean and spraying  some WD 40 into each nipple thread.  Yes the grease gun cones out. Oil is changed. Classical music is on the boom box or maybe a little folk music.   Sure I check the points, plugs,  and valve lash. Tire pressure is reset and another coat of armorall applied to the tires.   I even check the tread to make sure no stones are stuck.  Then everything is noted in the log book. Going back to when I started it in1969. 
    By now much of the day has gone so the cover goes back over it and it's ready for the next time.   I think next time I'll polish the Whitworth wrenches and sockets. Maybe talk Claudia into making me a canvas roll for tools. 

That sums up my idea of fun with a car really well now, Frenchy.

ccrunner
ccrunner New Reader
11/2/22 3:47 p.m.

"...and enjoying the whole experience..."

We married on June 22, 1991.. Our parents gifted us our honeymoon trip, but in order to use it, we had to get from Sacramento to the SF airport after the wedding.  We were broke.. so, so broke back then.  Our 'best' car to get us there was my Ratrod 1953 F100.. this was before Ratrods were a thing, but I just couldn't bear to call that truck what it was: a beat down, hope and a prayer POS..  Anyway, we were both exhausted and excited as we started our new lives together en route to our honeymoon, getting about 11 mpg, when the V8 under the hood became a V4.. My new bride groaned as we coasted to the shoulder outside of Fairfield.  "Time me- two minutes max!" I said as I clambered out of the cab to tame the dual points back to functionality- a task done many, many times on this truck.  This was pre mobile phones, but all I would have used a cell phone for was the light; it's dark under that massive hood!  Lisa bit her tongue as the truck fired right up, using all of it's 8 cylinders, and on our way we went. 

     All these years later, we're still married, but the truck is now gone, and other things have changed too.. She's much smarter now, and refuses to ride in the vintage stuff I build.. Can't say as I blame her.  She still tells anyone who will listen about how our old truck 'broke down' on our wedding night, and she's especially fond of telling the story about how on our wedding night, I blurted out "Time me, two minutes max!"  

 

aircooled
aircooled MegaDork
11/2/22 5:03 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

I'd like to point out that I have many old cars, but they all have Pertronix Ignitors or equivalents :) Except the blue Cadillac, I should sort that out...

I can certainly put a Pertronx in my 58 Ghia, but I am staying with the points because I can carry an easy to replace spare in my tool box for under $10.  A spare pertronix would be about $100. 

Old cars that use points likely need "tune ups" anyway, so that is just part of that process.  The amount I drive it, and the amount that most people would drive points cars these days, makes failure between tunups highly unlikely anyway.

If someone is technically "unsophisticated", I would likely recommend a Pertornix, but I would probably also recommend not driving anything but a fully modernized old car.

Tomwas1
Tomwas1 New Reader
11/3/22 9:43 a.m.

All of the above, just bought a 63 Mercury comet s22 convertible exactly like my first car and have been dealing with just about all of the above issues but hey, it's just like my first car... The similar car was seven years old when I was 17, now it's 60 years old and I'm 71... Drove it 1500+ miles so far and fixed floor rust and doing repairs as I go but loving the car. Gets nothing but love wherever it goes... I have three older BMWs also, 99 m3 vert, 99 528i msport sedan and 96 328 sedan.. All some of the best cars BMW ever built...

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